With all our love for shopping at farmer’s markets, finding food closer to its source versus on the grocery shelves, it makes sense that the eco-foodie in all of us is curious about taking it one step further: foraging, or “shopping” in the wild.

Like wild animals, which forage for food to survive, humans are increasingly perusing nature’s natural bounty, in search of fresh edibles. In restaurant-speak, this chic, food frontier is called “field to table” and is considered a top food trend.

Mushrooms, burdock, and dandelion are among the types of foods gathered for prep in in the kitchen. Romantic in its concept, and successful on many levels, foraging has also stirred up controversy by conservationists, chefs, and farmers who want a balance between pushing the envelope on a “fresh,” high-end dining experience, and the risks of misusing nature for foodie pleasure.

Here are the pros and cons, and if you decide foraging is for you, ways to do it safely – for you and the environment.

Pros

  • Organic, non-GMO, and height-of-the season fresh items
  • Save money on your food budget by discovering high-priced items, such as morel mushrooms, for free
  • Gain a greater awareness of your ecosystem
  • Spend time outdoors, for fresh air, exercise, and vitamin D
  • Connect to others who enjoy exploring food and nature

Cons

  • Over-foraging or irresponsible foraging can destroy an ecosystem
  • Not all plants are safe for eating, especially in more urban areas, where residual dog waste, pesticides, and pollution are factors in safety
  • Foraging requires commitment, making it time consuming
  • Affects the economic livelihood of local farmers

Safely Forage: What To Do (And Not To Do)

If you still want to explore foraging for yourself:

  • Know how to identify what you find
  • Know whether your foraging spot is safe from poisons and that it’s not a nature reserve
  • Don’t be greedy, take too much, or pick endangered species (it’s unethical and illegal)
  • Don’t leave litter behind
  • Wash what you bring back
  • Check for allergies by rubbing your plant on your skin, touching it to your lips slightly, and noticing changes in your body
  • Don’t eat anything you’re unsure of

The increasing interest in finding food naturally is supported by more and more meetups of like-minded foragers, often led by knowledgeable guides. City and local government agencies also organize walks in which education is paramount. So, if you had any questions about your first foraging efforts, make the connection with others in the know and satisfy the eco-foodie in you.